UFC 290 blew the roof off T-Mobile Arena last night (Sat., July 8, 2023) in Las Vegas, Nevada, which saw Alexander Volkanovski retain his Featherweight title by stopping former interim title holder, Yair Rodriguez, in round three via strikes (see it here). In the co-main event, Alexandre Pantoja defeated Brandon Moreno again, this time via split decision to become the new UFC Flyweight champion in what truly was an instant classic (full recap here).
Biggest Winner: Alexander Volkanovski
After coming up short in his Lightweight title fight against Islam Makhachev, Volkanovski returned back to 145 pounds and reminded everyone that despite his setback in a higher weight class, he is still the man at Featherweight, and now the only champion in the division. Rodriguez was supposed to be one of “The Great’s” toughest tests to date, but the hard-hitting Aussie passed with flying colors and earned his fifth straight title defense, leaving Max Holloway in the dust as the best Featherweight the sport has ever seen. Volkanovksi is absolutely unstoppable at Featherweight and shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon, which means we could witness one of the greatest title runs in the history of the sport when it is all said and done, up there with the likes of Anderson Silva and Georges St-Pierre.
Runner (s) Up: Alexandre Pantoja and Dricus Du Plessis
In what was one of the best fights of 2023, Brandon Moreno and Alexandre Pantoja went to war for 25 minutes in a bloody back-and-forth brawl that saw Pantoja earn a split decision win to earn his first taste of UFC gold. Pantoja now moves to 3-0 against Moreno and aims to start a long reign as 125-pound champion. While one of the judges didn’t know what he was looking at (see why here), Pantoja clearly won the fight thanks to his outstanding grappling mixed in with well-timed strikes that ultimately neutralized Moreno’s flow.
Du Plessis, meanwhile, stunned the combat word with a sizzling performance against former Middleweight champion and fan-favorite, Robert Whittaker, stopping him via technical knockout in the second round to earn his eighth straight win, sixth inside the Octagon (see it again here). He also earned himself a shot at the division champion, Israel Adesanya, who demanded (and got) a face off inside the cage against his next opponent, which will likely go down at UFC 293 on Sept. 9, 2023.
Honorable Mention: Robbie Lawler
Very few fighters can leave the hurt business after a lengthy career on a winning note, but Lawler did just that after he knocked out Niko Price in just 38 seconds of the first round in what was the final fight of his legendary career. Afterward, the promotion honored “Ruthless” with a highlight reel of his career, which brought the former Welterweight champion of the world to tears. Not a bad way to go off into the sunset after a 22-year career that will see him go down as one of the best to ever don UFC gloves. From UFC, PRIDE, Elite XC, Strikeforce and back to UFC, seeing “Ruthless” go out with a highlight-reel knockout was something everyone was hoping to get.
Biggest Loser: Shannon Ross
While it may seem like odd choice at first, it makes sense when you realize that Ross’ UFC run has been horrible, getting knocked out in the first round in his first two tries inside the Octagon. After a 59-second defeat to Kleydson Rodriguez at UFC 284 four months ago in his debut, “The Turkish Delight” suffered a 17-second knockout loss to Jesus Aguilar, who stunned Ross with a one-hitter quitter. And when you add the fact that Ross was also knocked out in his fight on Contender Series in Aug. 2022, it makes you wonder if this is the end of the road in his short-lived UFC tenure.
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